In a dramatic, winner-take-all final match that went the distance of its “best of 11” format, the Montreal Nationals’ Pascal Lefrancois defeated the Berlin Bears’ Brian Rast to take down the inaugural Global Poker League World Championship.
The eight teams that showed up on Tuesday to determine the champion represented the top squads that survived from a long regular season grind. For the GPL Americas, the top seeded Nationals had to contend with the L. A. Sunset, the Sao Paulo Metropolitans and the San Francisco Rush (in their order of seed) if they were going to even have a chance at the GPL World Championship. On the other side of the bracket the Moscow Wolverines entered the tournament as the top seed, with the Hong Kong Stars, the Bears and the London Royals battling for the GPL Eurasia championship.
From the start on Tuesday, there was an intensity to the contests that arguably wasn’t there during the regular season. The Nationals and the Rush squared off inside “The Cube” and took the battle all the way to a climactic Game 7 in the “best of seven” series (four wins to take the match). With players such as the Nationals’ Mike McDonald, Marc-Andre Ladouceur and Lefrancois and Phil Galfond, Jonathan Jaffe and Faraz Jaka of the Rush inside the “Neon Box,” it would come down to a victory by McDonald over Jaffe to send the Nationals to the GPL Americas Finals and knock out the Rush.
The other semi-final didn’t let the crowd in the GPL Arena in Las Vegas down, either. Pushing their contest to a Game 7, the Sunset (with Olivier Busquet, Chance Kornuth and manager Maria Ho) and the Metropolitans (featuring Darren Elias, Joao Bauer and Thiago Nishijima) fought tooth and nail before Busquet eventually topped Nishijima to earn the other seat in the GPL Americas Finals.
As the top two seeds in the GPL Americas, it was expected to be another outstanding battle between the Nationals and the Sunset to see who would move on to the GPL World Championship Series. Instead, the Nationals seemed to have control of the event, moving out to a 3-1 lead before Ladouceur bested Ho and earned the Montreal Nationals a seat at the table for the GPL championship.
It was going to be tough to top the incredible action from the GPL Americas, but the GPL Eurasia decided to take a shot at it on Wednesday. The Wolverines (with manager Anatoly Filatov, Igor Yaroshevskyy and Andrey Pateychuk) made short work of the Royals (with a disappointed manager Liv Boeree, Igor Kurganov and Justin Bonomo) in winning 4-1, while the Bears (with Rast, Sorel Mizzi and Bill Perkins) won three consecutive games after falling behind 2-1 to the Stars (Guo Dong, Randy Lew and manager Celina Lin) to earn their seat in the GPL Eurasia Final.
The GPL Eurasia Final turned out to be the most entertaining match of the GPL Eurasia bracket. Neither team could move ahead by more than one game, forcing the action to a Game 7 and the “winner take all” moment that makes sports so special. Rast, who could arguably have been called the MVP of the GPL Eurasia bracket, finished off his fifth win in five efforts inside “The Cube” on Wednesday by defeating Filatov to win the series 4-3 (a big upset as far as seeding) and the GPL Eurasia Championship.
On Thursday, both the Nationals and the Bears were primed for action, ready to determine the champion and the recipient of the $100,000 bonus for the eventual World Champion. In a slight change to the schedule, the GPL World Championship became a “best of 11” series (six wins) instead of the “best of nine” schedule (five wins) that had previously been scheduled. However many games the two teams would play, it would turn out that the battle would go right to the end.
Montreal seemed to be wanting to make quick work of the series, using victories from Lefrancois, McDonald and Jason Lavallee (originally scheduled to be a part of the early action in the GPL Americas but delayed by flight issues) to go up 3-1. The Bears would fight back, with Rast, Mizzi and Perkins pulling even at 5-5 after an impressive 4-2 run. Down to the last match, Rast and Lefrancois squared off on the felt and, on the final hand, provided the last moment of drama for the 2016 GPL season.
Holding pocket Queens, Lefrancois was able to get Rast (with 10-8) to see a flop with him and flopped the world. The 8-4-Q squarely hit Lefrancois but he played it cool, allowing the turn card to fully trap Rast when it came as a ten. Instead of having a sneaky two pair, Rast was drawing dead as he committed his chips against Lefrancois’ set of Queens to end the series with the Nationals winning 6-5.
Congratulations to Lefrancois, McDonald, Lavallee, Ladouceur and Xuan Liu (the only member not in attendance in Las Vegas) for winning the inaugural Global Poker League championship. Whether this same team will return in 2017 to defend their title remains to be seen, but it should be entertaining to see what innovations come for the second season of the league.